As technology slowly seeps into our lives, influencing our daily lives, elbowing it’s way into our mind and schedule, it becomes more and more crucial to establish a clear border between it and us. The establishment of a border that clearly demarcates where your hand ends and your phone begins may seem easy at first. As technology worms it’s way further into our lives, however, the hand and the phone fuse, and the weight of humanity becomes more and more reliant on the crutch sweetly proffered by our mechanical aides.
This increasing dependence on technology manifests itself in many ways. Hackers are born, people who spend their lives trying to defeat the online systems in games and spitefully create viruses. Many people sink into deep depressions as a result of online social rejection, only to attempt to abjure the situation by fleeing to other social media platforms. The Hikikomori, a Japanese term meaning “being confined,” are a group of Japanese youth who spend their lives in their rooms, eyes glazed over from screens, their meals delivered under the door. Technology rears its ugly head as well by contributing to a long-brewing firestorm of fake news, using the naive reliance of young adults on the Internet for news to pollute their minds with twisted facts. In the 2016 election, many Russian bots, or fake users, were sent on to Facebook and other platforms, where they contributed to the alarmingly rapid spread of misinformation.
The avaricious outreach does not stop there, however, and also makes itself known in what I believe to be its most vicious method yet: spell check.
Yes, that little red underline that pops up when you fail to put “I” before “E” (except after C), that innocent little reminder of your various grammatical error, the one that has saved your life on countless school assignments. Yes, that unassuming little helper will be more disastrous to humanity than the influx of bots and fake news will be, and it will be so in accordance with the single most important law regarding electronics and all forward motion, the Golden Rule: Short-term convenience always leads to long-term inability.
Picture it like this: If I have to jump over a large crate to get to school each day, I would feel greatly inconvenienced, as it might result in my being late to school. That weekend, I decide to hire a team of workers to lift the large, heavy crate each day as I go to school, in order to stop that tiring leap each day. Once the crate is gone, I enjoy an uneventful trip to school each day, free of stress or physical exertion. Over time, since I stopped my daily crate-jump, my legs slowly lose that ability, as I am getting no crate-jumping exercise elsewhere. As I enjoy my walk to school Monday morning, I notice that, by some freak accident, all of the members of my special crate-removal crew are sick. I look around and see no other way to get to school in time, no way to get around the crate. If I attempt to jump over the crate, I will be unable, despite the fact that not long ago it had been easy. An inconvenience, but in hindsight, relatively easy. Therefore, I become late to school, and I am late to school every single day that my crew is absent from their station.
While navigating a complicated and rapidly evolving world, it is important to remember the actual reason for our evolving. What is the actual force the has propelled us past the denizens of the animal kingdom. It is certainly not our brains, as we are dumber than not only dolphins, but elephants and certain whales as well. It is not our strength, say bears, oxen, tigers and gorillas, or even weight and strength ration, crow the Dung Beetle and the Leafcutter Ant. If not brain or brawn, what could it be that separates us from the multitudes of beasts? The answer is simple. It is one of the very basic skills of humanity and part of the reason we survive today: our ability to write, springing from our opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs, however, are not nearly as interesting an article topic, so writing it is.
The differentiation between an early human’s schedule and a dolphin’s may well have been very similar. Awaken. Search for food. Potentially meet predator. Die at the hands/fins of predator or not. Eat food. Sleep. Repeat the process until death, whenever that might come. The only reason humans dominate the earth is their fast-paced evolution, beginning with writing, which enabled mankind to pass down discoveries. Isaac Newton said it best in the famous quote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on (the) shoulders of giants.” That was how humans broke out of the cycle they shared with dolphins, by building on the knowledge already gained by their ancestors. If a dolphin found a place with a particularly copious amount of food, there was no way to record that, so he would eat up and leave. A human would paint it on the walls of his cave, and the place would feed generations. This baseline skill of humanity has been the reason that we have progressed even through hardship, and its absolute necessity should not be forgotten.
Because of this, and the fact that humans know it as well, there have been no attempts to actively inhibit our writing, with a few exceptions. Unfortunately for us, however, we have somehow found a way to do so, and under the guise of being completely innocent, which is even worse. The more aid that humans receive from online, the less they write themselves without help, the less they are able to write without the constant help of websites and spell check, which will almost definitely result in debilitating results in the long-term. Already, people rely too heavily on these such websites, and too many students now rely on sites like Grammarly for their essays. There is a reason that we are not producing the same caliber of writers as we used to, a reason why the quality of the average book has deteriorated from complicated and nuanced to weight loss, a reason why nearly all the books worth referencing are from at least twenty years ago, if not much more. Who would have guessed that believing that we need external aid for humanity’s most basic need would result badly?
Another reason to be alarmed by Grammarly and its similar entourage is its surprising amount of tolerance that teachers have regarding it, when the reality is that they are helping students too much. I personally find it astounding that its usage has not been banned by the DOE, especially since Grammarly and Co. are not doing that much to attempt to dispel any sort of criticism. They are, in fact, being very outright about the fact that they are servicing students with essays they are meant to be doing by themselves. “If I want to get A’s on (my final exams), they better be free of typos,” an actor playing a student states in a Grammarly ad, and then continues with a sly smile, “Grammarly is my secret weapon.” One might think that this is just a little business tactic and that Grammarly does not do a ton to help your writing, just maybe catch the occasional mistake. Nope. The actor boldly plows onwards, “It’s more than just a simple spelling or grammar checker, Grammarly catches ten times as many errors as Microsoft Word. (Grammarly) helps me with word choice, punctuation, and sentence structure.” Oy vey. And then the video closes with two absolutely awful phrases that sound straight out of an episode of Black Mirror, “Better writing. Better results.”
Better writing. Better results. We will improve your writing and make sure you get better grades. All for free. And this is all allowed by nearly all schools, which is absolutely appalling. How is one supposed to learn writing if whenever there is bad writing, it is automatically fixed? This is even ignoring the simple fact that the teachers must be very misled. If a student needs extra help with their writing, the teacher will never know, and neither will the high school or college the student applies to when they see the students’ grades. This is an appalling interjection of corruption and laziness into society, and soon enough the long-term effects will come into play. In 1997, world champion Garry Kasparov lost to the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue in a game of chess. Now, a supercomputer can know how to beat you after you make your first move, and human skills at chess are useless compared to theirs.
Better writing indeed. We shall see about the second count.